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May 4, 2020

Inspiring the next generation of musicians

Jasmine “Jazzie” Pigott said her world changed the day she discovered a classical musician who was female, black and making it in the solo world as a prominent tubist. Today, the MSU master’s student in tuba performance looks to inspire the next generation of black girls by creating a tuba album written by young composers of color.

Pigott’s project to bridge gaps in representation and musical styles recently received top prize from the annual Running Start Competition through the MSU College of Music. She’s commissioned four composers to write three to five-minute pieces with black music styles including funk, hip-hop, soul, R and B and the spoken word. Marketing-wise, she looks to target groups through social media, churches and schools and to encourage K-12 students of color to join and thrive within their school’s classical music programs.

“I remember that moment in 10th grade when I went home, opened my computer and saw Velvet Brown — a black woman — playing tuba on my screen,” said Pigott. “My goal is to reach black girls and students of color who will have a moment like that and say, ‘Hey, this looks like me. This is something I can do,’ and want to play tuba and join their school’s music program, too.”

Seeking inclusion

Pigott was drawn to play the tuba as a preschooler watching cartoons. She had seen Larry the Cucumber from VeggieTales play oompah-style pieces on the tuba, and thought it looked like fun to play an instrument that “wrapped around her.” When it came time to sign-up for band in school, she picked trombone, mistaking it for the tuba. She played that for a year, then switched, circling back to her dream.

Pigott exceled. At first, she didn’t think about being one of a few blacks in her high school band since she attended a majority white school on Long Island. But after noticing she was the only black person in her 2013 All-County high school band, she began thinking more about representation in classical music. Heading off to college, she became involved in diversity and inclusion groups as an undergraduate, and later founded an organization for Ithaca College Musicians of Color.

“Aside from some socioeconomic differences, students in diverse populations are less likely to pursue and listen to classical music because of lack of representation in artists and styles,” she said. “I wanted to figure out a solution.”

MSU professor of tuba and euphonium Phil Sinder met Pigott when she was a finalist for the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba Festival Competition in 2016. He noticed her drive and tenacity, and her ability to perform under pressure, and talked with her about coming to MSU for graduate studies. 

“Jazzie has a beautiful lyrical approach to the instrument, and couples that with strong range and technique,” he said. “It is no surprise that there are very few black female professional tubists, but Jazzie has the talent and the confidence to make an impact in the field, and to stand as a mentor and leader for the coming generation.”

Pigott started her master’s at MSU in 2019. Interested in showcasing the tuba’s versatility, she began exploring ways to incorporate black music styles into tuba repertoire. Her research led to her planning a presentation for the 2020 Northeast Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at Ithaca College, as well as her entry into the 2020 Running Start Competition.

“The virtuosity of the tuba is hidden except to tuba players,” she said. “This recording will allow people to see this instrument as really cool, get students of color interested in classical music, and create a movement for other styles, too.”

Pigott said her four composers are on track to complete their pieces by May. Composers include MSU College of Music students Jordyn Davis and Daijana Wallace, and Ithaca College’s Malachi Brown and Keeghan Fountain. Once the pieces are written, Pigott plans to pique interest by touring schools and churches in predominantly black communities this summer. She will look ahead to recording the four compositions in New York City, pressing a limited number of CDs, and streaming pieces through Spotify or Apple Music after lining up additional support and collaborators.

“Ultimately, my goal with this project is to reach students of color who will hear these compositions and want to play classical music or participate in their school music programs,” she said.

To read the full story, visit the College of Music.

By: Richard Seguin

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